I must admit that I am conflicted about today’s news.
Part of me wants to do my happy dance over the GOP’s alleged boy genius and Ayn Rand fanboy, House Speaker Paul Ryan, announcing that he will not seek reelection. This guy has been the media’s biggest darling and intellectual fraud of the past two decades.
But by quitting he deprives me of the sweet joy of seeing him defeated and humiliated, as he was in 2012 as the vice presidential nominee of Willard “Mittens” Romney. Vice President Joe Biden destroyed him in the VP debate. I want the catharsis of seeing Ryan defeated and humiliated because this insufferable asshole so richly deserves it. Good riddance.
On an eventful day such as this, it is time to check in with one of Paul Ryan’s harshest critics with which to celebrate, Charles Pierce at Esquire. Paul Ryan Will Retire as the Biggest Fake in American Politics:
It’s probably too much to hope that Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, will dedicate his retirement to public service the way that his immediate predecessor has.
Acreage Holdings (“Acreage”) (www.acreageholdings.com), one of the nation’s largest, multi-state actively-managed cannabis corporations, announced the appointments of former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner and former Governor of the State of Massachusetts Bill Weld to its Board of Advisors.
Instead, he’s going back to Janesville to be the Dad he’s always wanted to be, home to his 5,786-foot Georgian mansion on Courthouse Hill, and its 13 rooms, six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, the little house on the Wisconsin prairie that Ryan was able to afford because he married money, the one that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Paul Ryan has somehow amassed a fortune of between four and seven million dollars without holding any job except “Congressman” for the past 20 years.
(By the way, the Dad concerns somehow were muted back in 2012. If things had broken differently, Ryan would be in his sixth year as vice-president of the United States and, of course, he would not be planning to succeed President Romney because there would be high-school plays he couldn’t miss.)
Now, he’s coming home to the district he’s avoided like the plague ever since the current midterm election cycle began. Last weekend, for example, he had to put his full-time Dad job on hold in order to go to Texas and raise money. I’m sure they had to drag him onto the airplane to go to Houston. I’m sure they’ll have to pry him out of the family manse to raise more money as we get closer to what may be a Republican cataclysm in November, the way they had to pry him out a couple of days ago for a quick trip to Georgia to raise some money there, too, and the way they had to pry him out to go to Savannah, or Texas.
As a longtime connoisseur of Ryan’s public fakery, I may never decide what about him I find the most nauseating—the retrograde policies that he gussies up as concern for the poor and downtrodden, or the wet-eyed phony sincerity with which he sells them. Even in his press conference on Wednesday, Ryan expressed disappointment that, in his two decades in Congress, he didn’t get to fully gut Medicaid and Social Security. From C-SPAN:
Entitlement reform is the one thing, the one other great thing I spent most of my career working on. I’m extremely proud of the fact that the House passed the biggest entitlement reform bill in the history of the House of Representatives. Do I regret that the Senate did not pass this? Yes. But I feel, from all the budgets that I’ve passed, normalizing entitlement reform, and the House passing entitlement reform, I’m very proud of that fact. But of course, more work needs to be done. And it really is entitlements. That’s where the work needs to be done. And I’m going to keep fighting for that.
This would include, of course, “reforming,” probably out of existence, the Social Security survivor’s benefits that got him through high school and college before he could line up at the federal trough for the rest of his adult life. He is, however, very proud of the grotesque tax bill he managed to pass.
The major reform of our tax code for the first time in 36 years. Which has only been a huge success for this country, and that’s something I’ve been working on my entire adult life.
Ryan’s entire public career has been dedicated to shoving the nation’s wealth upwards and into the pockets of his donor class. It was the basis for the ridiculous reputation he built up through the years in which he was portrayed as a disinterested policy wonk, in which capacity he produced budget after budget that were chock-a-block with magic asterisks and fuzzy math, and most of which caused his Republican colleagues to hide behind the drapes when he walked down the halls.
The illusion died a horrible death in 2012, when Ryan sat down on stage next to Joe Biden and. You may recall that Ryan revealed that, yes, it does snow in Afghanistan during the winter.
Further, there was that great moment in which Ryan started inveighing against President Obama’s stimulus plan only to have Biden produce a letter from Ryan in which Ryan was begging for pork for some project back in his district.
It also was the reason why, as this administration* has steadily been revealed as corrupt and incompetent, and a danger to fundamental democratic norms, as Speaker of the House, Ryan has been utterly supine. Quite simply, he didn’t give a damn about any of that as long as he got the plutocrat’s dream of a tax bill that he’s been working toward his entire adult life.
Biggest. Fake. Ever.
And where are we now, back in Wisconsin 01? There’s a spirited Democratic primary between ironworker Randy (Iron Stache) Bryce and Cathy Myers, a member of the school board in Janesville. The only announced Republican candidate is….wait for it…a crazy-assed white supremacist named Paul Nehlen, whom Ryan crushed in a primary two years ago, and who made the news recently by being suspended by Twitter for a racist post about Megan Markle. From Newsweek:
In the tweet, he superimposed a picture on Markle’s image of the reconstructed appearance of Cheddar Man, an ancient Briton who experts now believe was dark skinned after conducting DNA tests on his 9,000-year-old remains.
It would be great if every respectable Republican in the district ran and hid and left Nehlen as the party’s standard-bearer in the race to replace Paul Ryan. It also would be quite fitting. Ryan always served as one of the more “respectable” faces of a Republican Party that was steadily going mad. He didn’t care as long as the people who bought him dinner were happy with how he was rigging the nation’s economy on their behalf. Now, he’s going home to spend more time with his donor…er…family.
Don’t it make my zombie eyes blue?
Thank you, Charlie. That felt good.
The New York Times‘ Paul Krugman, also a harsh critic of The Flimflam Man of the GOP has not yet weighed in. I expect his column in the next day or two will be dedicated to the intellectual fraud of Paul Ryan. I look forward to it.
UPDATE: The professor delivers, The Paul Ryan Story: From Flimflam to Fascism:
Why did Paul Ryan choose not to run for re-election? What will be the consequences? Your guess is as good as mine — literally. I can speculate based on what I read in the papers, but so can you.
On the other hand, I do have some insight into how Ryan — who has always been an obvious con man, to anyone willing to see — came to become speaker of the House. And that’s a story that reflects badly not just on Ryan himself, not just on his party, but also on self-proclaimed centrists and the news media, who boosted his career through their malfeasance. Furthermore, the forces that brought Ryan to a position of power are the same forces that have brought America to the edge of a constitutional crisis.
About Ryan: Incredibly, I’m seeing some news reports about his exit that portray him as a serious policy wonk and fiscal hawk who, sadly, found himself unable to fulfill his mission in the Trump era. Unbelievable
Look, the single animating principle of everything Ryan did and proposed was to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor? Remember, he voted against the Simpson-Bowles debt commission proposal not because of its real flaws, but because it would raise taxes and fail to repeal Obamacare.
And his “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so the pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs. I called him a flimflam man back in 2010, and nothing he has done since has called that judgment into question.
So how did such an obvious con artist get a reputation for seriousness and fiscal probity? Basically, he was the beneficiary of ideological affirmative action.
Even now, in this age of Trump, there are a substantial number of opinion leaders — especially, but not only, in the news media — whose careers, whose professional brands, rest on the notion that they stand above the political fray. For such people, asserting that both sides have a point, that there are serious, honest people on both left and right, practically defines their identity.
Yet the reality of 21st-century U.S. politics is one of asymmetric polarization [see Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem] in many dimensions. One of these dimensions is intellectual: While there are some serious, honest conservative thinkers, they have no influence on the modern Republican Party. What’s a centrist to do?
The answer, all too often, has involved what we might call motivated gullibility. Centrists who couldn’t find real examples of serious, honest conservatives lavished praise on politicians who played that role on TV. Paul Ryan wasn’t actually very good at faking it; true fiscal experts ridiculed his “mystery meat” budgets. But never mind: The narrative required that the character Ryan played exist, so everyone pretended that he was the genuine article.
And let me say that the same bothsidesism [aka broderism in honor of the late David Broder] that turned Ryan into a fiscal hero played a crucial role in the election of Donald Trump. How did the most corrupt presidential candidate in American history eke out an Electoral College victory? There were many factors, any one of which could have turned the tide in a close election. But it wouldn’t have been close if much of the news media hadn’t engaged in an orgy of false equivalence.
Which brings us to the role of the congressional G.O.P. and Ryan in particular in the Trump era.
Some commentators seem surprised at the way men who talked nonstop about fiscal probity under Barack Obama cheerfully supported tax cuts that will explode the deficit under Trump. They also seem shocked at the apparent indifference of Ryan and his colleagues to Trump’s corruption and contempt for the rule of law. What happened to their principles?
The answer, of course, is that the principles they claimed to have never had anything to do with their actual goals. In particular, Republicans haven’t abandoned their concerns about budget deficits, because they never cared about deficits; they only faked concern as an excuse to cut social programs.
And if you ask why Ryan never took a stand against Trumpian corruption, why he never showed any concern about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, what ever made you think he would take such a stand? Again, if you look at Ryan’s actions, not the character he played to gullible audiences, he has never shown himself willing to sacrifice anything he wants — not one dime — on behalf of his professed principles. Why on earth would you expect him to stick his neck out to defend the rule of law?
So now Ryan is leaving. Good riddance. But hold the celebrations: If he was no better than the rest of his party, he was also no worse. It’s possible that his successor as speaker will show more backbone than he has — but only if that successor is, well, a Democrat.